5 bulletins for 5 services

Got all your bulletins proofread and printed? Two services on Christmas Eve? One on Christmas Day? The usual number the Sunday after? I hope so. This year it all happens Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

So you’re ready. Right?

Or are we mentally Away from the Manger?

An old folk tale that goes all the way back to the second century imagines what the moment of Christ’s birth was like for Joseph. In this story, Joseph is not by Mary’s side. He has left the manger in search of a midwife — someone to help with the impending birth. Approaching a nearby village, Joseph has an eerie experience.

Joseph sees a shepherd in the field. The shepherd is dipping a piece of bread into a clay pot. The shepherd’s hand is stilled — for just an instant — the bread suspended before his mouth. Above Joseph — the same instant — a bird stalls, its wings momentarily frozen in flight. The night breeze, brisk against his face, evaporates. All of this seems to happen at once, in what Madeleine L’Engle called “a wrinkle in time.” Everything is still. The next instant the world around Joseph returns to regular motions. The shepherd chews his bread. The bird flies away. The wind picks up again.

Joseph is not quite sure what, if anything, has happened. Then it dawns on him. Mary’s child — the Son of God — was born.

At this time of year, there is always something that needs attention. … Sometimes — I’m ashamed to admit — Christmas comes and goes and I realize I wasn’t really there. In my heart, I was still fiddling with my end-of-the-year pastoral checklist. Like Joseph, I was away from the manger.

Some years, it is not until the final chorus of “Silent Night” dissolves into our candlelit sanctuary stones. Sometimes, it’s not until our services are finally over and I’m alone in the car. A stoplight stills me along the empty streets of early Christmas morning. Some years, it is not until the next day, after the nervous energy has worn down. I awake from a Christmas-day nap. … Yet every Christmas, God still comes.

As the O Antiphons spell out, I am coming.

Past Posts